Medical doctor

Sleep is our body's natural way of rejuvenating and remaining healthy. Any disruption — whether caused by a neighbor's stereo, an uncomfortable mattress, or a medical condition — can be detrimental.

Our bodies are designed to work during the day and rest at night. The main recommendation to combat both insomnia and restlessness is to be physically active during the daytime and to try to absorb as much daylight as possible. A brisk walk outdoors on the way to work or at lunch may be instrumental in giving the body the right cues about the natural day-night rotation.

Meanwhile, don't go to bed until you're calm and ready to fall asleep — one should not spend the whole evening finishing up work and then expect to fall asleep right away. Wind down by stretching, engaging in hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. You can also try a sleep-inducing product, but most won't work if you're not mentally and physically ready to sleep.

Try chamomile tea or any foods you associate with winding down 30 minutes before hitting the sack. Avoid caffeine, and remember that many tea beverages, sodas, or energy drinks have more caffeine than your average cup of coffee.

Rizan Hajal, MD, North Dakota Center for Sleep, Fargo, North Dakota

Naturopathic doctor

There are certain sleep rules we should all follow. For one, don't use alcohol to help you fall asleep. Some find that a glass of wine helps them relax and therefore sleep better, but in reality, the wine only temporarily eases mental stress and is not curative.

Second, limit caffeine to two small cups no later than 3 p.m., because caffeine affects hormones that may create energy surges lasting up to 12 hours.

Third, avoid heavy meals two hours before bedtime. They can cause heartburn. Digestion is work for the body — you can't ask it to break down heavy or spicy foods while you're trying to relax.

To wind down a restless mind, draw a warm bath with lavender, sandalwood, ylang ylang, and chamomile essential oils. Try taking slow, deep breaths while lying down. Kava root improves mood, quells muscle spasms, and alleviates anxiety. Valerian may help by depressing the central nervous system.

The hormone melatonin, which controls the circadian rhythm that tells us when to sleep and wake, can also be taken to combat insomnia, but consult your health care practitioner first.

M. Hank Sloan, ND, Optimal Health Center, Cumming, Georgia

Psychologist

The major causes of restless sleep are worry and an overactive mind. Anticipating a big upcoming event or focusing on an uncompleted to-do list can keep you tossing and turning throughout the night. Write down last-minute concerns or uncompleted tasks so you won't rethink them over and over. Steer clear of nonsleep-related activities, such as watching TV or reading in bed.

Oftentimes people work themselves up over their inability to sleep until they are too mentally aroused to doze. If you haven't fallen asleep within 15 minutes of going to bed, climb out and do something nonstimulating in low light, such as listening to calming music through headphones or looking at pictures in an art book. Once you feel drowsy, return to bed and try again.

Restless sleep becomes a problem when you can no longer perform daily tasks effectively. If you're falling asleep at inappropriate times or dread going to bed, contact a professional. A psychologist can recognize symptoms of depression and anxiety, which often disrupt sleep. I ask patients who are convinced they are chronic poor sleepers to look into a mirror at bedtime and say with conviction “I will sleep well tonight” while smiling. It works for some!

Jeannine L. White, PhD, Advantage Counseling, San Diego, California